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ABOUT The World ...  

Par Claude Chastagner, professeur d'anglais à l'Université Paul Valéry à Montpellier.

"The Song Remains the Same".

On creativity in popular music.aniviolo.gif (8222 octets)Clic and Listen to music.mid 
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  "The Song Remains the Same".


  However, in the field of popular music, the theory, albeit not always in an overt form, is slowly becoming the most widespread model to account for creativity. We would like to give two recent examples. One is an article by Simon Reynolds on techno music and acid house. Reynolds explains that British youth "misconstrued" the concept of acid house when they first heard the term and the music from Chicago. From a slang expression meaning sampling, they assumed it meant psychedelic. It became, says Reynolds, "another prime example of British youth mis-recognising (and re-motivating) a Black American  music" (our emphasis, 730). 

He adds: "'Ardkore is really just the latest twist on the traditional contours of working class leisure, the latest recycling of the sulphate-fuelled-60-hour weekend of mod and Northern Soul lore" (our emphasis, 735). Another example is provided by Frith and Horne; they state that with British Blues "the determined pursuit of an original sound -the sound of rock's origins- became the source of a musical progression" (89). Numerous other examples of a similar perspective on rock's history could be given.

  We would like to end this rapid survey of the various conceptual tools used to account for creativity in American popular music, with an attempt at inverting the proposition. We have seen how the notions of revolution or recycling could be applied to music, but could we apply music to them? In other words, is rock music a revolutionary tool or is it used on the contrary to recycle society? Let us just sketch out what the possibilities could be. Here again, two opposite perspectives co-habit. With 30s folk-music and 60s protest-songs and soul, the idea has been put forward that the empowerment of white and black youth could be rooted in popular music, that a cultural and artistic revolution could be at the core of a political revolution (thus, in Soul

On Ice, Eldrige Cleaver pays his dues to Elvis Presley as one of the causes of the counter-cultural revolution, and insists on the bridge he established between the white and black communities).

  Others on the contrary purport that rock music is used by corporate America as a means to recycle any revolutionary ferment, as a tool for consumer discipline and social control, that it is part of the compost society uses to deflect any risk of deflagration. This brings to mind Walter Benjamin's position about art : the question is not so much "what is its position vis-à-vis the productive relations of its time, does it underwrite these relations, is it reactionary, or does it aspire to overthrow them, is it revolutionary", but what is its position within them. (261) The discussion thus shifts from the issue of what artists can do for the workers to what artists can do as workers. Artists, it implies, should also try to change the methods and techniques of artistic production. Otherwise supplying a revolutionary message by conventional methods risks negating the impact that is intended. 

But as usual, the truth is somewhere in-between. Whether one considers its impact on society or the nature of its progress, American popular music, as we hope this dossier has made clear, is an ambivalent, dynamic process relying as much on the past as on the present, on American practises as on foreign ones, on tradition as on innovation, on rupture as on recycling.

claude chastagner - france - Site Philagora, tous droits réservés ©


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Ouvrages cités
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CAGE, John. Silence : Lectures & Writings. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1979.
CHAMBERS, Iain. Urban Rhythms: Pop Music and Popular Culture . London: McMillan, 1985.
CLEAVER, Eldrige. Soul on Ice. London: Panther, 1979.
COON, Caroline. 1988 :The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion. London: Omnibus, 1977.
DERRIDA, Jacques. La Dissémination. Paris : Le Seuil, 1972.
FISKE, John. Understanding Popular Culture. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989.
FRITH, Frith. Music for Pleasure: Essays in the Sociology of Pop. London: Polity Press, 1988.
FRITH, Simon & Trevor Horne. Art into pop. London: Routledge, 1988.
GRACYK, Theodore. Rhythm and Noise: an Aesthetics of Rock. London: Duke University Press-IB Tauris, 1996.
GROSSBERG, Lawrence. "Is There Rock After Punk."On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word. Ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin, London: Routledge, 1990.
HEBDIGE, Dick.  Subcultures: The Meaning of Style. London: Routledge, 1979.
HILLIS, Miller J. "Steven's Rock Criticism as Cure II." Theory Then and Now.
New York: OUP,1991.
JARRET, Michael. "Concerning the Progress of Rock & Roll." Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture. Ed. Anthony DeCurtis. Durham: Duke University Press, 1992.
LAING, Dave. One Chord Wonder: Power & Meaning in Punk Pock. Milton Keynes: Open University - Taylor & Francis, 1985.
REYNOLDS, Simon in WIRE n° 105, November 1992,The Faber Book of Pop. Ed. Hanif
Kureishi and Jon Savage. London: Faber & Faber, 1995

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